Today, the American Buffalo Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the beginning of the American Bison Society 110 years ago and their early conservation efforts to save an American icon.
As a big game hunter and the director of the Bronx zoo, William T. Hornaday acquired several bison, and by 1903, the zoo supported 40 bison on their ten-acre range.
With the support of Theodore Roosevelt, Hornaday became instrumental in saving the American bison from extinction and forming a society for the preservation of the animals.
On December 8, 1905, the American Bison Society began with William T. Hornaday as its president.
Also in 1905, the Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve began to which Hornaday, as director of the Bronx zoo, sent 15 bison from the zoo’s herd to reintroduce them into the wild and start a new herd.
Though a big game hunter, Hornaday was involved in several different wildlife preservation efforts.
In the Index, Pittsburgh’s Illustrated Weekly of May 1908, James S. Buchanan wrote about the gentleman in an article titled, “A Man Who Does Things.”
“America has spent millions for museums in which to preserve the bones of animals that have been extinct for more years than there are dollars in their mausoleums, but she looks with absolute indifference on the preservation of the bison.”
Mr. John M. Phillips, the big game hunter, was talking, and because Dr. William T. Hornaday, director of the Bronx Zoological park and in many ways the most interesting figure at the Founder’s day celebration this week, was the subject of his conversation it was inevitable that he should soon get around to the bison.
For among all the other interests that Dr. Hornaday has there is none quite so near to his heart as the work of the American Bison society, of which he is president.
“Someone called the bison our national bird once,” Mr. Phillips continued, “and there is certainly no individual in the whole animal kingdom that is so typically American. Men are still alive who can remember when countless herds of them ranged the prairies of the west, but if every bison alive today were given a name one might know and call them all by title without putting his memory to any great strain.
“And still it is only by the hardest kind of work on the part of a handful of enthusiasts that even these are alive. A bone seems to be worth a hundred buffalos in the estimation of most people!”
And, as a matter of fact, Mr. Phillips might have spoken with far more feeling than he did, for the bison hasn’t been given a square deal by either the American people or the American government. But if the square deal doesn’t come it won’t be Dr. Hornaday’s fault.
Up in northern Montana a herd of 35 of them was turned loose on the Flathead Indian reservation a few years ago. Favorable conditions and expert care brought the herd up to 500 last year—and then the Canadian government was allowed to purchase 300 of them, so the United States is but little better off than it was before.
But good may come of the incident, for the issue is being made one of national pride just now and Canada’s action may yet spur official Washington to turning the Flathead reservation into a bison preserve, which is the especial ambition of the Bison society.
But, as I have said, the bison is only one of Dr. Hornaday’s protégés. All animals are dear to him, and there is no finer hunter in the land than he, for first of all he believes that the best hunter is he who does the most hunting and the least killing.
Just at present he is bending most of his energies toward the creation of the Goat Mountain Park preserve, which has already been described in The Index.
This wonderful stretch of country lies along the Elk and Bull rivers in the Eastern Kootenay district of British Columbia, and was “discovered” by Dr. Hornaday and Mr. Phillips in 1905.
Since that time they have been working assiduously to have it preserved, and with such success that before the summer is over there is reason to believe that the premier of the dominion will issue the order shutting it off from settlement and development.
A week ago Dr. Hornaday addressed representatives of 37 of the chief sportsmen’s associations of Canada and they pledged their cordial support to the project. In a recent circular issued by Dr. Hornaday and Mr. Phillips urging immediate action in this matter this declaration was made:
“Goat Mountain Park contains today no fewer than 1,000 goats, 200 mountain sheep, 100 mule deer, 50 grizzly bears and some elk, of all which live there all the year round. Nowhere else in British Columbia, nor in all North America, can so much fine big game, of any species, be found in any territory of equal size, save in Yellowstone Park.
“On January 30, 1908, R. M. Norboe counted ninety-five sheep on another range of grassy ridges that are swept free from snow by the force of the wind. In his letter to Mr. John M. Phillips, reporting this observation, Mr. Norboe says:
“‘There is no doubt in my mind that 200 mountain sheep winter on that hogback, from opposite this camp down to within seven or eight miles of Elk river. I saw about twenty-five or thirty goats today. The game stays where the wind blows the snow off. I do not think any of these sheep ever cross the Elk. I think the sheep that winter on Sheep Mountain come from the Continental Divide, and the Stoney Indians will eventually wipe them from the face of the earth.’
“Last December the Murphy brothers saw near Munro Lake about forty mule deer and four elk which had come there to winter. They also found the recently abandoned camp of a party of Stoney Indians who evidently had come down from the north on a game slaughtering expedition.”
Such a project as the preservation of so rare a big game resort might stir the enthusiasm of any man, and thousands of sportmen throughout America are rejoicing because of the prospect of success that attends the present stages of the undertaking.
This is the sort of thing Dr. Hornaday has been doing all his life. He was born on a farm in Indiana in 1854 and was raised on another in Iowa. He graduated from the Iowa Agricultural College and from Ward’s Natural Science school at Rochester, N.Y., and when he was 20 he killed his first big game—a crocodile on the Isle of Pines.
Incidentally it came mighty near his last as well as his first performance, for an excited Spaniard mistook him shortly afterward for an insurrecto, and the American had the narrowest kind of an escape.
In 1875 he visited the West Indies and South America, and returned from this expedition to make a tour of the zoological gardens and museums of Europe. The next three years he spent in the jungles of India, Ceylon, the Malay peninsula and Borneo, going clear around the world on his way home.
In 1882 he was called to the National museum to organize a department of taxidermy, and four years later went to central Montana to collect buffalo for it. The next ten years he spent chiefly in study and travel, until, in 1896, he went to the Bronx zoo.
But no such a summary can give even an idea of what Dr. Hornaday has really done.
Few men in the world have hunted so many different sorts of game in so many different places and in so many different ways. Few men have come to know so much about the game they have hunted.
Few men have been able to turn to such good account what they have learned. Few men have ever written so entertainingly about it, and few indeed are the men who look so modestly upon what they have accomplished.
Those whose good fortune it has been to live in the open with Dr. Hornaday never tire of reciting the all but countless ways in which the rare quality of his fellowship manifests itself.
They will tell you of his courage and his resourcefulness; they will tell you of his unfailing good humor; they will tell you of times when he has been so ill he should have taken to his bed and yet hid it absolutely lest the knowledge of it might impose some discomfort upon his companions; they will tell you that an hour with him is an education in itself.
And even a moment with him shows you that it must all be so.
What he has done at the Bronx zoological park is characteristic of the man. There he has built up a park that is without its equal in the world. It is marvelous for organization and for the completeness of its displays, it is everything that such a park should be, and, best of all, it is appreciated.
But all of these things seem matters of course because of the very nature of the man who is the controlling influence there. He is a man who does things, and who does them well.
Dr. Hornaday’s last adventure was an exploration of an almost unknown portion of western Mexico in company with Mr. Phillips and Dr. D. T. MacDougal, of the New York Botanical Gardens.
They went, last December, into this desolate volcanic region and came back with a great collection of valuable trophies, a number of which, prepared by Dr. Hornaday himself, are now in the Carnegie museum.
Among them are the pelts of two antelope belonging to an exceedingly rare sub-species remarkable for the long and heavy red mane it has. But there are other, and even more interesting, reasons why Pittsburghers should feel a sense of ownership in Dr. Hornaday.
He has been intimately associated with a number of men from this city, and since its organization he has been a member of the Lewis and Clark club, that distinguished and exclusive body of big game hunters to which only the man who has really won his title may aspire.
Mr. J. E. Roth has been with him in the Canadian Rockies, and a peak in the Goat Mountain park has been named for him. Mr. G. N. Munro has been there with him, and the little lake referred to above bears his name.
All these things make a visit from Dr. Hornaday like a visit from an old and intimate friend, and for him it makes a visit like a visit to one’s own home.
The picture reproduced on this page is a fine one of Dr. Hornaday.
The camp it shows is in the Kootenay country, and the two men with him are guides who have fared far and often with him into the wilds.
The grizzled old chap crouching at the right is Mack Norboe, whose name is one to conjure with in the northwest, and the third member of the group is “Charley” Smith.
To Dr. Hornaday’s friends the picture will have an especial interest because they will recognize the coat he wears as his “dinner coat.” He always dons it when some particular dainty is to be served, and its appearance is the signal for the circumstance that befits such an occasion.
The American Buffalo Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with two views of Dr. Hornaday, one from 1900 in his “city” clothes for his position at the Bronx zoo and one from a few years later at “Goat Mountain.”